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Basic pen making terms

Like any other activity, pen makers have their own specialized terminology that can be confusing when you first start.

Bands

The piece of metal that goes between two parts of the pen — e.g., where a twist pen twists.

You can get specialized bands engraved with various designs that fit specific pen kits; make sure you get one that fits your pen kit.

Barrel trimmer

Used to trim down a blank to exact size after cutting it. Not necessary for making polymer clay pens.

Blanks

Blanks are blocks of wood or acrylic that pen turners spin on a lathe and use woodworking tools to cut down to size. Sometimes polymer clay artists call their finished barrels “blanks” as well, especially if they’re selling just the barrels instead of the finished pens.

Bushings

Bushings are small metal tubes that you use on each end of your barrel to show what height you want the end of the barrel to be. If you want, the barrel can be different heights between them, but for a smooth pen feel, each end should match the bushing for that end.

Some kits have different bushings for each end, so pay attention to your kit’s directions and make sure you create your barrel correctly and then orient it correctly when assembling the pen.

Different pens have different kits, so pay attention to what you need for which kit and consider storing your bushings in bags that identify which kit(s) they are used with.

CA Accelerator

Accelerator is sprayed on to your CA after each layer if you want it to set faster.

CA Glue

Cyanoacrylate Glue makes a very durable finish for pens, including polymer clay pens. While superglue is technically a brand of CA glue, it is not a good choice for finishing pens.

Cap

The top of a pen.

Chisels

Used by pen turners for reducing a blank to appropriate size. Not used when making polymer clay pens unless you are turning them (which most people don’t.)

Clips

The clip is the part of the pen that attaches it to your pocket or notebook. Many pen kits that include clips can be assembled without the clip if you prefer a clip-less pen.

You can also buy specialized clips with various designs and engravings for different pen kits, just make sure you get one made for your pen kit.

Drill bits, chucks, etc.

Used by pen turners for drilling out a blank. Not necessary when making polymer clay pens.

IAP

The International Association of Pen Turners: https://www.penturners.org/

Lathe

Woodturners use lathes to turn their pens. Since we do not have to turn our pens, you can skip buying a lathe and either sand by hand or use something like a drill or Foredom.

Mandrel

A mandrel is just a rod you use to assemble the pen.

When you are turning a wooden pen, or finishing any pen (including polymer clay), you want a threaded mandrel so you can use nuts to tighten your barrels against the bushings so they don’t spin when you try to turn them or sand them.

You can assemble your own mandrel or buy one.

Pen Kit

A pen kit contains the hardware necessary to assemble a pen. It will have the ink, the tip, the appropriate mechanism (twist or click), and some brass barrels you will put clay around.

It will not include bushings, you will need to buy those separately if you want them.

Pen Press

A specialized piece of equipment that makes it easier to assemble a pen kit. You can also use a vice, though they can be harder to keep the pen kit in proper alignment, and if you don’t already have one they can cost almost as much as buying a pen press.

Pen Tube Insertion Tool

Not required for polymer clay pens, it’s used by pen turners who are drilling out blanks and need to insert the tube into the drilled blank.

Refills

Pen kits are usually designed like normal pens you purchase are and you can replace the ink when it is used up. Make sure you look up your kit and take a note of what refills it takes.

Tip

The point of a pen that the ink cartridge comes out of so you can write with it.

Tubes

Pen kits come with brass tubes that you will apply polymer clay to, to create the decorated barrels for your final kit. Different kits use different length tubes and sometimes a kit with two tubes has two different sizes or diameters for those tubes.

You can also just buy tubes on their own without the kits, which is cheaper and a good option if you want to experiment more or sell polymer clay “blanks” rather than finished pens.

If you haven’t yet applied CA glue, you can always peel your clay off a tube and re-use the tube if you didn’t like the pen you made, even after baking. If it doesn’t come off the tube by picking at it with your fingers, you can use a blade to slice into the clay and peel it off.

If you have already applied glue you could sand it down enough to be able to peel off the clay, but tubes are cheap enough (and can be bought on their own, without the pen kits) that that may not be worth the time and effort.

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Prep work for applying CA glue to polymer clay pens

Getting the right hardware

You need to apply CA with a lathe or other spin-creating tool (see my articles on cordless and lock-on drills for lathe alternatives). And since your barrels will be spinning, you will need a threaded rod and nuts to keep them held firmly and moving around with the drill.

If you don’t have something like a PolyClay Mandrel or some knurled round coupling nuts or similar threaded low-profile nuts, I’d recommend using extra bushings to separate the nuts from where you will be applying CA glue, as you want your hand to be able to move smoothly from end to end.

Choosing your CA glue and accelerator

The random glue you have in your drawer or just bought from Hobby Lobby will probably cause cracking problems for you and be frustrating. Start by choosing a CA glue that will work well with pens: CA Glue Basics

Bushings

As a polymer clay pen-maker, you need bushings for a few reasons:

  • They help you sand and finish your pen barrels to the correct height to work with the rest of the pen
  • They keep your pen barrels separated from each other, when you have two (which is very useful when applying CA glue)
  • They keep your pen barrels separate from your drill so you don’t get CA glue on more expensive components
  • They keep your pen barrels separate the nuts you’re using to tighten everything on your mandrel, so you can move your hands freely back and forth while applying the CA.

Woodturners need multiple sets of bushings, due to their stronger cutting tools, but as a poly clay artist you will likely need only one set for each type of pen kit unless you are using extra bushings for separating barrels when baking or on your mandrel.

If you are using CA glue, I think it’s useful to have an extra set or two of slimline bushings to keep space between your barrels and your drill and nuts.

Preparing your bushings

If you are using regular CA glue, then the best bushings are non-stick bushings (which I believe are made from HDPE). You can order them off Amazon or get them from wherever you are getting your pen supplies.

You will likely need only one set of four.

If you are using odorless, it’s a bit trickier, since it sticks to HDPE. In that case I use a trick I learned from Toni Street’s page on finishing pens: Rub some paste wax on the bushings first, though it took some experimenting to figure out a good technique.

For a paste wax, I’ve used both P21S 12700W Carnauba Wax and Renaissance Wax and not noticed a significant difference.

I apply the paste wax liberally to each of the bushings and the coupling nuts, including the ends, give it a chance to dry, and then buff it out.

Prepare your workspace

CA glue will stick to anything it touches, and if it’s natural fibers, it will emit heat and potentially a lung-irritating smoke.

I keep some acetone around (e.g. nail polish remover with acetone) for clean up, but mostly try to avoid having to clean up.

I use wax paper (e.g. deli sheets) sliced into small squares to apply the CA glue rather than paper towel, which can react with the CA glue and create heat/smoke/fire (though you will see lots of woodturners using paper towels, and I’ve used them too. Just be aware of the risk if you do.)

I use polyethylene to protect surfaces: whether it’s a polyethylene disposable glove that I put used wax paper on, or a polyethylene sheet on my lap to protect my jeans, it’s worth a bit of work up front.

For more tips and examples of what to buy, see my article on protecting yourself and surfaces from CA, as well as the article about the risk of chemical burns when CA comes into contact with natural materials like cotton and wool (jeans, t-shirts, paper towels, etc.)

Apply the glue

Follow your favorite YouTube video, or the article I wrote on finishing your pen with CA glue.